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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

CCS at Tobruk

CCS at Tobruk

The new site was on high ground five miles inland from the sea and eight miles by road from Tobruk. Burnt-out trucks, barbed wire, and other rusting debris were evidence of the early battles that had been fought on the outskirts of this important port. Rocky ground made it almost impossible to drive in tent pegs. However, no time was lost once the trucks were off-loaded—four hours after arrival most of the departments were set up. Seventy patients, the overflow from 15 British CCS nearby, were admitted by the middle of the afternoon. This unit, with its 6 a.m. bell-ringing, whistle-blasts, and calls of ‘Wakey! Wakey!’ which signalled reveille, will be well remembered.

The CCS was at Tobruk for nearly three weeks. Patients came by plane from El Adem and by road back from Barce and Derna. Medical units in the rear sent them forward. Contrary to the usual policy by which patients were sent on as soon as possible, they were now held pending evacuation by the hospital ship Llandovery Castle, which sailed once a week for Alexandria. Under this system the bed-state at the end of each week far exceeded the normal 200-bed establishment. When the New Zealand Division moved from Bardia, patients received from the field ambulances brought the number held up to 470. Accommodation was heavily taxed and extra tents had to be erected.

Fortunately by this time the Light Section, under Maj S. L. Wilson, had returned and its staff was distributed among the various wards. The loss of a truck by fire had been one of the highlights of its experiences since being separated from the Heavy Section two months previously to perform surgery with the field ambulances.

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In the last days of November the weather grew much cooler. Extra blankets, battle dress, and winter clothing were issued, and wards were supplied with kerosene heaters. Tarpaulins were overhauled and repaired against rain. And it did rain at Tobruk. Strong winds blew in low cloud from the sea and there were heavy downpours. Large pools of water formed throughout the unit lines and many areas were muddy, but this did not deter the footballers.

There was little air activity at Tobruk, although on several nights enemy bombers appeared. The importance of the harbour could be judged by the concentrated ack-ack barrage sent up. The unit had a front-seat view of this spectacular display, and splinters often fell in its area. About a mile away across minefields lay the railhead of the single track from Alexandria. Against the possibility of raids on this target, some of the tents were sandbagged. It was disconcerting to imagine what might have happened when, a few days after the unit had moved farther forward, it was learned that a stick of bombs apparently intended for the railway had landed in the unit's lines.

Meals were good during this period in spite of the speed with which the Army had moved away from Base depots. ‘Bully’, however, appeared only too frequently. One day there was an issue of bread—a welcome change after weeks of hard biscuits. Water was again a problem as all the wells at Tobruk had been salted. For making drinks, washing, or for sterilising instruments, salt water was not ideal.

The front was now some hundreds of miles away. Benghazi was again in British hands, and practically all Cyrenaica was clear of the enemy. Forward elements of Eighth Army were probing at the El Agheila line. Back at Tobruk the CCS felt quite out of the picture. The Light Section staff, ambulance drivers, and patients brought back accounts of the green acres that were to be seen farther forward. Everyone was anxious to move away from the monotony of the area.